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"I want to wear a skirt to school" he said.

“I want to wear a skirt to school,” he said.

By LUCY OSBORNE

My 5-year-old son was choosing his clothes for school one day, when he came upon a skirt. He was so excited, “Look Mum, here’s my special skirt” he said.

His sister has recently turned 2 and received a plethora of cute dresses of differing colours, styles and materials. She had paraded them to the party goers with the expertise of a runway model at fashion week.

She had declared the garish bedazzled patchwork dress of orange, pink and purple to be her favourite and told me I could give the cute little black dress with red cherries back to the shop it came from. (“The cherries are red, Mum. Not pink!”)

When tucking my son in the night after his sister’s party, he earnestly asked why she always got so many special clothes, while his clothes were always so boring?  Why couldn’t he have beautiful clothes? Then, the next time we went shopping he started looking at the girl’s clothing and declared he wanted a beautiful dress or skirt.

So that Christmas, on my lunch break, I made a visit to the David Jones kid’s department in search of something super special just for him. I bought my son a high end girl’s skirt from a fancy Melbourne kid’s designer – somewhere I would never usually shop.

He was ecstatic.

He raced to put it on and danced and twirled about in front of grandma and grandpa getting lots of ‘ooos’ and ‘aaahs’.

But as his first day of school approached, I felt a twinge of nervousness. The skirt was fine for at home and for going to the local park but what if he wanted to wear it on his first day? I decided not to let it have too prominent a position in the drawers, just in case.

Soon after he started school, he told me how one of the girls in his grade had exactly the same skirt and he would really like to wear his to school today (he attends an inner city Melbourne school with no uniform).

My heart started to race, “I really think it needs a good iron,” I said, buying time.

“And we’re running late today. How about I iron it for you while you’re at school and it will be ready for you when you get home?”

It’s a funny thing how having the pigeon pair, one boy and one girl, highlights exactly how gendered kids are from the moment they enter this world. I would feel my heckles rise as with the almost daily comments on my 2 year old’s looks.

“Such a beautiful girl!” exclaims the greengrocer/childcare worker/old greek neighbour/total random stranger on the street. And as a result I’d always assumed it would be this gendering of my daughter which would cause me the greatest struggle.

No so.

Because while girls can be tomboys, a boy in a skirt is a much more challenging quandary.

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Other parents’ views on the subject of the skirt wearing for boys are generally pretty negative and fall into two distinct camps: the Raise Your Son as a Man Camp and the Cruelty to Children Camp.

It was this second camp that really hurt me.

While I totally believe children should be able to wear whatever they want – I was completely petrified not only of what the other children would think of my son but what the other parents would think of me!

I called my partner at work, and gave him a quick overview. “Lucy, I really don’t think it’s a good idea to let him”.

Yes, yes, I think I might feel the same way, but how to tell that to a five year old?

Telling your son that he can’t wear a skirt to school.

As the clock ticked closer to 3.30pm, I had an assortment of possible spiels for my son. I wanted to be honest but also feared that then he would see the real truth – that I was too embarrassed and weak to stand up for him.

How could I tell him that girls could wear clothing from both sides of the spectrum, but that because he was a boy he must wear ‘boring’ boys clothes, or risk ….. or risk what exactly? Being seen as gay? As a girl? As a freak?

That night I told our son that while I didn’t believe there was really a difference between boys’ and girls’ clothing, other people did. So wearing a skirt to school would be very challenging for other people.

I went on to say that he could always wear his skirt at home and with our family and friends, and that we should save his special skirt for a school dress up day, when everyone would be more accepting of wearing different clothing.

My son wasn’t having a bar of it. “I don’t care what other people think,” he said with a confidence that made my heart sing and quake in equal measures. “If I get teased, I’ll just ignore them.” “Okay,” I relented.

The next morning as we got ready for school, the skies opened up and my son declared today too cold and wet for his skirt. Relief flooded through me as I returned the freshly ironed skirt to his drawers.

Then that day after school, he showed me the “wacky bands” his best friend had given to him, thus beginning a month long obsession in his prep class… and the rainbow skirt spent the next year unworn until it was outgrown.

On reflection I wonder whether I would have let him wear the skirt had the weather been fine.

I wonder if I have been a bad role model.

But really, I am just a person who wishes for a better and more open minded world, but am too scared to take the first step to changing it. Or at least, too scared to let my son do it for me.

Lucy Osborne is a Mamamia reader and mum of two kids.

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